Stop me if this story sounds familiar. Holidays come and they bring a few extra pounds. New Year’s resolutions whistle by and when you shed clothes for summer, you’re even heavier.
Back in 2005, I decided it was time to make some changes. Years without regular exercise had left me feeling unhealthy.
So I quietly started a fitness plan. I was living in my first apartment without roommates since graduating from college, and I felt a sense of freedom and control over my life for the first time.
First, I figured out what to eat. I found out about portion sizes and learned to cook more balanced, healthy meals (lots of fruits and vegetables, fewer cookies). I made sure I had healthy snacks, like low-fat yogurt or an apple, to eat at work or after a workout when I was hungry.
Then, I joined a gym. I started off slowly, spending 30 minutes doing cardio three times a week. It was a schedule I could easily make time for. Then I asked a friend who worked out often if we could work out together. She taught me some simple exercises and we lifted weights.
None of this change was particularly easy. I felt hungry at first and tired after long workouts. But something amazing happened, too. I started to lose weight and this routine became a habit. My trips to the gym started to feel normal, and I even missed them when I couldn’t go.
I’m not a personal trainer or a nutritionist, but here are a few things that helped me start a fitness program.
Set a routine and stick to it.
At the beginning of the week, decide which days you are going to work out and stick with the plan. Try keeping the schedule for at least two weeks and see if it gets easier. In my experience, it will.
Write down what you eat.
Knowing what I had eaten let me know if it would be OK to have an extra snack on an afternoon when I was hungry. It also made me aware of what I was eating – too much! I love to cook and have had fun trying healthy recipes that help balance special occasions. If I have burger night, I often will follow it with salad night.
This will help you feel full when you’re getting started. I fill a 32-ounce water bottle each day as a starting point.
Don’t be discouraged.
Starting a fitness regimen is tough. You’re asking more of your body and giving it less fuel, and you may not have much to show for it at first. But when you begin to lose weight and feel great after each workout, it will be worth it. When I started this process, no one noticed at first, even after I’d lost a little weight. Once I’d lost about 20 pounds, a friend pulled me aside one night and said, “You look great. What have you been doing?” She was disappointed to hear it was just diet and exercise – not some miracle plan.
Try different exercises until you find something you like, or work out with a friend. Not all of my workouts are fun, but I always feel great when my workout is over and I know I have worked hard. I have a playlist of songs I like to run to that keep exercise interesting.
I’ve kept up my fitness routine since 2005 without many lapses and found new challenges along the way. I’ve run two half marathons (something I never thought I’d do) and added swimming, weight training and yoga. Even though it sometimes takes effort to work out, I almost never regret it.
One thing I do regret: not starting earlier.